Napa County is a county located north of San Pablo Bay in the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 136,484. The county seat is the City of Napa. Napa County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. Parts of the county’s territory were given to Lake County in 1861.
Napa County comprises the Napa, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area. It is one of four North Bay counties.
Napa County, once the producer of many different crops, is known today for its regional wine industry, rising to the first rank of wine regions with France by local wineries Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena winning the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976.
Napa County was formed and became one of the original California counties when the state became part of the United States in 1850.
Descendants of George Yount and Captain Edward Bale played key roles in the early development of Napa County. Yount’s granddaughter Elizabeth Yount married Thomas Rutherford in 1864. The couple received as a wedding gift from George Yount, land in the area of the valley now known as Rutherford. Rutherford established himself as a serious grower and producer of fine wines in the following years. Bale’s oldest daughter Lolita married the seaman Louis Bruck. When Bale died in 1848, Bruck became the executor of the will for the family. He was elected the first mayor of Napa City when incorporated in 1872. Charles Krug, a fellow Prussian compatriot and pioneer viticulturalist at Sonoma, married Lolita’s younger sister Caroline with a dowry that included land near the Bale mill. Krug then moved north of St. Helena to establish the valley’s first commercial winery.
John Patchett opened the first commercial winery in the county in 1859. The vineyard and wine cellar were located in an area that is now in the city limits of Napa. After working as a winemaker for Patchett, Charles Krug founded his own winery in St. Helena 1861.
The county’s population began to grow in the mid century as pioneers, prospectors, and entrepreneurs moved in and set up residence. During this period, settlers primarily raised cattle and farmed grain and fruit crops. Mineral mining also played a role in the economics of the county. In 1858 the great silver rush began in Napa Valley, and miners flocked to the eastern hills. While gold was being prospected in other areas of the state in the 1850s, Napa County became a center for silver and quicksilver mining. In the 1860s, mining carried on, on a large scale, with quicksilver mines operating in many areas of Napa County.
In 1866 John Lawley established a toll road from Calistoga over Mount Saint Helena to Lake County.
Young vineyard in the valley with Mount Saint Helena in the background
Robert Louis Stevenson’s book The Silverado Squatters provides a snapshot of life and insight into some of the characters that lived around the valley during the later part of the 19th century. Stevenson, accompanied by his new bride Fanny Vandegrift and her 12-year-old son from a previous marriage, Lloyd Osbourne, spent the late spring and early summer of 1880 honeymooning in an abandoned bunk house at a played out mine near the summit of Mount Saint Helena. In the book, Stevenson’s descriptive writing style documented his ventures in the area and profiled several of the early pioneers who played a role in shaping the region’s commerce and society. Stevenson’s book also brought attention to the various spas and hot springs in the county. From Calistoga to Æetna Springs in Pope Valley to Soda Springs Resort a few miles east of Napa, tourists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries made the county their destination much the same as modern day tourists. The resorts became very popular with San Franciscans anxious to escape the cold and foggy weather that often plagues the city to enjoy the warmer climate that Napa County offered.
In the mid-1880s, entrepreneur Samuel Brannan purchased land in the northern end of the valley at the foot of Mount Saint Helena and founded Calistoga. He began developing it as a resort town taking advantage of or the area’s numerous mineral hot springs. He also founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company in 1864 to bring tourists to Calistoga from San Francisco ferry boats that docked in Vallejo. Brannan’s railroad venture failed and was sold at a foreclosure sale in 1869. The railroad eventually came under ownership of Southern Pacific Railroad late in the 19th century.
The Veterans Home of California Yountville was established in Yountville in 1884 by the San Francisco chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic. The State of California assumed administration of the Home in 1897.
Geography and environment
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 789 square miles (2,040 km2), of which 748 square miles (1,940 km2) is land and 40 square miles (100 km2) (5.1%) is water.
Napa is warmer in the summer than Sonoma County, to the west, or Santa Barbara County, a wine-producing county in southern California. Thus, the Napa wineries favor varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, while Pinot noir and Chardonnay are more the specialty of Sonoma and Santa Barbara wineries. At the north end of Napa County, in the Mayacamas Mountains, lies Mount Saint Helena, the Bay Area’s second tallest peak at 4,344 feet (1,323 m) and home to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park; Snell Valley is also situated in northern Napa County; the Missimer Wildflower Preserve is within Snell Valley. At the west side of the Napa Valley is Hood Mountain, elevation 2,750 feet (838 m).
Napa County is home to a variety of flora and fauna including numerous rare and endangered species such as Tiburon Indian paintbrush and Contra Costa goldfields.